How many times have you heard a coach say, "It's your job...." It may be a player's responsibility within a system but not a job. If playing hockey is a job then we better pay everyone for playing. Do you really believe Patrick Kane thinks of it as a job as he skates in on a penalty shot and undresses a goaltender with a sick move? Even the NHL players are having fun. Certainly for some players it is the rush of adrenaline they get, but it's still fun.
Hockey is a Passion. Actually it's more like an obsession. Think of everyone and anyone you know who is successful in their career or at their craft. These people have a passion for what they do. They do it because they enjoy it, because they are good at it and because they cannot do without it.
I have told many hockey teams, players, and parents, a personal story close to my heart many times. I had transferred from Denver to Merrimack and the NCAA ruled me ineligible for a year much to my surprise and disappointment. The coaching staff and AD at Merrimack appealed and it too was denied.
I remember that afternoon like it was yesterday. Coach Ron Andersen broke the news as his assistant Jay Leach listened in. My eyes welled up and I walked away stunned into the locker room. As I sat alone in my stall I began to pack my gear.
Jay walked in the room and asked what I was doing. I said, "Coach I'm done, I have had it and I was going back to Chicago." Jay laughed as he sat down. With all the confidence in the world and a smile Jay said, "You're going nowhere, I will see you tomorrow." I told him no I was gone and asked him why he thought he would see me tomorrow. "Chuck you love the game and your passion and desire will carry you through until you are eligible." I thought about his comment all night and I was at practice the next day. I didn't miss one practice for three years and became captain. Jay was right!
When things get ugly coaching and the lows are so low I ask myself why? Do you love the game? Is it still your passion? It has been 32 years in Hockey and I'm still here.
I do quite a bit of observing these days when it comes to hockey players whether it's a player I am coaching, scouting or my own offspring. I see players on the ice who are having no fun at all. They don't try, they quit on the play, and they give no effort in practice.
It has become a chore, a job. I have a stern message for these players; if you don't have passion and love for the game and it isn't fun- Quit Now! If training is a pain in the butt instead of a way to improve, stop wasting everyone's time and your parent's money. If you don't want to play with heart and passion and it isn't fun to score in practice, stop playing.
Trust me if you don't love the game and play it with passion your career will be over sooner than later. You should look forward to games, bus trips, tourneys, and practice. You should cherish the time with your team in the locker room.
I also have a message for the coaches. Coaches at all levels can demand responsibilities, discipline, hard work, respect, and results while making it fun. I refuse to believe a player concentrating on playing his role and doing his job without fun is going to be all they can be for your team. If you practice without passion you will play without passion.
Last I need to tell you about my boys in the WHL (Wednesday Hockey League). We have what the guys call "resume" players who have played in the show. We have Stanley Cup winners. We have guys that have had 600+ goals in the minors.
The WHL has pros from the 70's, 80's, 90's and 00's. Then there is the rest of us college, junior and men's league players and sons we occasionally try to chase around. We skate inside on Wednesday and outside on Friday. We yell, argue, and insult each other. I know we all are out there for exercise but really we just love it.
Hell I can look off a resume guy on a 2 on 1 and score and have the glory of being the goal scorer I never was. I can get yelled at in French or English in the same sentence and still laugh when I don't catch a pass. I can blow off my backcheck because I am too old and tired to catch anyone. I can make a back door pass to my streaking son and be the proud Dad. I still shed a tear when I see Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams playing catch with his Dad. I get to play the whole game with my son.
When the skate is over we go for a beer and we relive those locker room days. We tell stories, we laugh, and we all agree that the passion is still there.
You see hockey is fun. Hockey should be fun. Thanks, Coach Jay. You were so right!
Chuck Linkenheld has been active in hockey at all levels both as a player and as a coach. A native of Illinois, he played junior hockey for the Chicago Minor Hawks and went on to play at Merrimack College in Massachusetts where he became captain his senior year. His coaching career began back in Illinois, and has more than 20 years of experience at the youth and junior levels, along with a dedication to helping developing players reach their full potential.